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Posts Tagged ‘India’


The Householder (1963): husband, Prem (Shashi Kapoor) and wife, Indu (Leela Naidu) not getting along


Shakespeare Wallah (1965): daughter Lizzie (Felicity Kendall) and mother Carla Buckingham (Laura Liddell, Felicity’s real mother) playing Shakespeare


Roseland (1977): a few of the chief presences sitting around one of many tables just outside the dance floor


Heat and Dust (1983): chief characters: Nawab (Shashi Kapoor) and his kept man, Harry (Nickolas Grace) and the English Official’s Wife, Olivia (Gretta Scacchi) out for a picnic

Friends and readers,

Over the course of my life, I’ve seen at least 16 of some 40 films (and some several times) made by the whole M-I-J team or two of the three over half a century. A few are bound up with memories that matter: going out to the cinema one summer’s day with Thao, a young woman I am motherly towards, and Izzy and seeing the Chekhovian The City of Your Final Destination (2009, so very late, after Merchant’s death); one night very late, Jim asleep, I burst into hysterical tears at the sense of a life thrown away, in The Remains of the Day (1993) and rushed into a room in the front of the house so as not to awaken Jim; during our trip into Quebec one summer, about (I thought at the time) retreat, Heat and Dust (1983), and now I’ll remember Shakespeare Wallah (1965), studying, trying to understand the work of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for a course I’m about to teach, and feelings about England deeply awakened by the poignancy of the characters having to leave India to go home …

While they are quite varied, I’d say at the core what makes them so often so compelling, so memorable is the true feeling caught or theatricalized in their actually usually quietly understated films; themes like memory, inexplicable longings, an undercurrent of melancholy. Film stories carefully developed, so the hidden life of social scenes is revealed before us. I didn’t chose the most striking shots from the many many brilliant actors who have performed for them, some of them almost unrecognizable by the time they were swept up into the film world (especially once Maggie Smith transformed) though the shots released to the public bring out the actor from the part to sell the picture:


A young Shashi Kapoor as Prem, the intensely frustrated, repressed (before his mother) and occasionally distraught husband in The Householder


Julie Christie as Anne supposed independent young woman come to India to research the life and places her great-aunt Olivia ended up in India in Heat and Dust

Ismail Merchant in one of the many short films he made with Ivory abut their work, and now to be found (if you are lucky), as features in re-digitalized DVDs, said what differentiated their work was they all worked with “heart, intelligence, art.” They were earnest as well as playful about their trade (Wallah can be translates into a trade). I find in their best moments, they approach the work of Ingmar Bergmann; there are also many fallings away, as they stumble, try for non-cinematic almost non-dramatic material (Roseland), attempt to please an audience with simply lush photography (The Bostonians). There is a love affair with the English southern countryside, though three continents, three cultures are their groundwork: India first (Southasia), then England (and Anglo places wherever found), then NYC (very late South America) and Italy (Europe). They could take a photograph: in their very first movies, The Householder and Shakespeare Wallah, they had the direct help of Satyajit Ray and his cinematographer from whom they learned much about cutting, editing. I feel they were drawn to the misty and intangible currents emanating from characters to one another


Felicity Kendall, the wandering half-broke troupe’s daughter, and Shashi Kapoor, the young Indian aristocrat in Shakespeare Wallah


Daniel Day Lewis as Cecil Vyse and Helen Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch in Room with a View (1985)

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I have vowed to make these blogs shorter and so readable; my aim here is to encourage the reader (and watcher) to watch the earlier films (1962-83), perhaps in the black-and-white versions off-putting at first (little is compromised, they are not bland)go to Amazon prime or YouTube (where many are to be found), rent one of the older DVDs from Netflix (or better yet, splurge and buy a newly re-digitalized version with features as long as the movie), so perhaps the best thing, swiftest is to make a picture worth a thousand words by linking in the whole of Householder from YouTube

with a precise, carefully observed detailed study of the film’s art and the human story’s appeal. What I can add as to the story:

The Householder is a close adaptation of Jhabvala’s apparently fourth novel (in books on her The Householder is said to be her first). Now I realize it has in embryo central motifs and types of characters she has throughout her fiction, from beginning (all India) to middle (English women drawn into India and their original personality destroyed by the experience) to end (cool stories of corrupt individuals exploiting vulnerable ones across the Indian/American divide), — you can see a parallel plot in way (putting aside too literal alignments) in Heat and Dust (which I chose as the end of the early films as it was their first true hit, and ever after they were too often tempted into cream and enigmatic evasion).

The Householder is also a utterly believable story of two young Indian people put into an arranged marriage, and then left to make it on their own with the husband, Prem, having a low level job as teacher on a small salary. One of the aspects of all Jhabvala’s novels is that as we begin (and in many of her novels this does not change) in pairs of characters supposed to spend their lives together at least one, sometimes both have no concern or love for one another, are not congenial and what’s more don’t expect to be (particularly true here). Prem is having a very hard time adjusting to teaching in a crude place with no help from colleagues, no education in education, students absolutely w/o any real motivation to learn what he’s teaching (a dialect of Sanskrit); Indu (Leela Naidu, also an actress in France) is given nothing to do, no one to be with, her only function to serve him and he’s gone all day. One of his big mistakes is to bring his mother to live with them — a greedy, self-centered woman, rather stupid. The wife flees back to her parents and what she remembers as a happy household of sisters when she discovers she is pregnant. It’s this period away that awakens our hero to his need of her and desire to be a successful husband (householder). Amanda Vickery did a three part series on men in the 18th century and one of hours was how men wanted and needed to marry to belong, to have status, to be seen as successful males. So often 18th century England resembles 20th century India.

There are remarkable scenes of fights between teachers, of his attempt to get a rise in salary and get his rent put down, a friendship with a young man very like himself, but having an easier time adjusting to what the society has given him as his fate. We are shown that marriage is no picnic at all — The Namesake of Jumpha Lahiri (a writer whose franker work teaches you much about Jhabvala’s) is an idealized depiction — in Jhabvala these males are just so rude and commanding to the imprisoned females whose feeble weapon is to strike back by being awful in conversation. Prem gets involved with very ego centered Americans who have come to India to escape to some sublime nirvana (as does Anne in Heat and Dust) and we meet both sincere gurus and crooks. This is a sketch of the kinds of people and social interactions which matter which she repeatedly, almost obsessively develops at length in her later stories. I hope women today in India in some classes are offered far more in life for real individual fulfillment.

A Daphnis and Chloe archetype underlies this story, for at its end we are asked to believe they are making a happy adjustment at last


Returning home together on the train

I’ve not got a video of the whole Shakespeare Wallah for free online, but I can supply some remarkable reviews, from the New York Times archive; in The Guardian, the professional Chris Weigand approaches with concision some adequacy on the film’s complicated arts: Bollywood and the Bard

In his Guardian obituary for Geoffrey Kendal in 1998, Ivory wrote about the tensions during the production with the veteran actor (Geoffrey Kendal): “He let me know how he despised the cinema – that the cinema was his enemy, causing theatres to be empty and tours to be cancelled.” But Kendal – who has an ease in front of the camera despite his lack of film experience – came to recognize that thanks to Ivory “it was the despised cinema that told the world of my existence and to a certain extent of my fight”.


Geoffrey Kendal doubting the value of what he has spent his life so beautifully on

And the despised cinema is here undeniably beautiful. Shot in black and white (for budgetary reasons) by Subrata Mitra, the film has a stately pace, is sensitively written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and comes with music by the esteemed director Satyajit Ray. The bumpy travels of theatre troupes often make for bittersweet comic escapades

And now my words:

A wandering troupe of actors have made a living traveling around parts of India doing Shakespeare and other classics (as the film opens we see a Sheridan play in progress before a mass group of boys in suits — white, Indian and one Black).


In 18th century costume performing on a bike

But they find they are no longer wanted in the same numbers or way. Gigs dwindle: the local places would rather Sanskrit poetry; the British schools are closing; they are paid much less. We see their truck break down on the road. They are aging, one man dies. The Gleneagles Hotel (pitch perfect that Scots name) that used to accommodate them – very British – is closing. Felicity Kendall is not comic in this and she is not thin — no need to be near anorexic in the 1960s. She and Sanju, an Indian man who rescues them on the road fall in love ad who has as his mistress, Manjula, a Bollywood star who performs one of their sexualized songs, Madhur Jaffrey (she is the Begum in Heat and Dust).


Manjula performing a Bollywood song and dance for Sanju

The poignant question is, Can They Stay On?


Exhausted, on the road, rainy, hot ….

So this is a version of Paul Scott’s famous masterpiece, Staying On, a story retold by Olivia Manning in The Rain Forest (franker and nowhere as well know, and yet more visionary, acerbic, yet in Manning our hero and heroine after some scarifying ordeals escape back; in Scott’s the man dies and we leave our heroine in a desperate situation, just holding on in a beauty shop and hostile hotel. They and this are all autobiographical: the Kendalls did live this way and in one of the features, a mature Felicity tells us at first her father was disappointed with the film as it did not show their triumphs, the fantastical fun they had living the way they did, it too emphasized the ending and sense of loss

We see several famous scenes from Shakespeare done very well in what seems an old-fashioned 19th century way (disrupted now).
Saying goodbye; her parents know it’s best for Lizzie to return to an aunt in the UK; they will follow when they find they must — now they will go round just doing “gems from Shakespeare”. The way it is discussed off-hand by ordinary people suggests a rollicking comedy (!), but while it does not end tragically and there are very comic moments, it is a melancholy and oddly realistic film.

It’s very realistic in the sense that we get feel for India. Jhabvala is the author of the script which while not as subtle as her later ones is very good — no book behind it. I am slowly beginning to appreciate her stories for the very first time ever –understanding her better and being older less emotionally involved, more distant myself.

These two films are a pair.

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Roseland, the place and marquee


The dancefloor

I would call Roseland one of the team’s noble failures. They actually filmed in the real Roseland theater, and with some professional actors, used the aging and ordinary people dancing of an evening: the idea seems to have been to concentrate on the dancing itself, with the stories barely sketched and the repetitive obsessions of those who come to such places regularly emphasized. It has its moments (Geraldine Chaplin of the professionals manages best); there are some professional dancers who catch our attention now and again, but it is fatally unrealized because it is trying to show us that the shell of these places is quite other than what is unexaminedly celebrated briefly in commercial films and histories.

This evening’s task is nearly done. I am passing over the effective The Europeans (1979): sorry to do this as it features a young Robin Ellis (also Lee Remnick — see just below) is a Henry James story, about clashing cultures, which is picked up later on, as just the sort of thing that M-I-J were particularly good at. Its themes differ from those of the other early films and the film anticipate other Henry James stories as well as several of the later, E.M. Forster stories — all set in England — or the US as The Europeans seems to be. It is not one of their best; they grew better at this type as they went on.

Heat and Dust has been if anything over-reviewed. Jhabvala’s novel had won the Booker Prize (so it sold fantastically well). Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian

After 37 years, Heat and Dust stands up as an intelligent, ambitious, substantial picture – with flaws but also intriguing aspects that were perhaps not sufficiently understood at the time. Is the movie’s love story a diversionary heterosexualisation of something else?


Anne after reading her aunt’s letters seems (mysteriously) taken by their content, next to her Chidananda allowed back in (he lives off her)

Yes, the Nawab is homosexual (the team also had real empathy for homosexual men), and the ending is not happiness; Olivia and now Anne turn out not to be free spirits but frustrated women who allow themselves to become the sexual partners, Anne, for example, as deluded as the successfully for a bit stubborn shaved American with his faux-Indian name, Chidananda (Charles McCaughan), and her landlord Inder Lal (Zaki Hussain, another less scrupulous Prem). She does not know who the father of her child is, and her retirement for help in the transformed building that Olivia ended her isolated life in as far from self-actualization as Olivia. The Nawab we have learned is a corrupt thug.

Bradshaw concentrates on the wonderful performances, and hidden meanings that leap out today, as well as the facile nature of the Anne parallel (just compare a real depiction of such a household, with the wife subject to epileptic fits, the mother-in-law supplying counterproductive punishing remedies). I want to add that what helped make people keep coming to the film after they satisfied an early Booker Prize enthusiasm, is the simplicity with which the stories is filmed — almost the hollowed out nature. Like The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah (and the quietly complex The Europeans), nothing is over-produced or over-emphatic at all, even if feel of the film’s images and music is so sensual — which gave our film-makers their nuggets for turning to a commercially successful second half (later M-I-J).

What people remember best — who saw it — is the parallel plot, exquisitely dove-tailed into the same places — Anne (Julie Christie) comes back to India to see the place her great-Aunt Olivia’s (Gretta Scacchi) life played out, to understand it better by inhabiting the living context – and we go back and forth between the 1920s elegant Raj (once again Shashi Kapoor) with its desperate people and high violence (not seen by us but heard about off-stage) and the 1970s in exactly same places in India. The parallels including both women getting pregnant by the India man closest by, only Olivia has an abortion and the disgrace leads her to desert her (boring) English husband, Douglas (Christopher Cazenove doing a serious job a la Leonard Woolf) for the alluring (to Olivia glamorous because strange) Raj — a retreat which deepens when he is said to visit her only 3 times a year — in deference to his mother, the Begum (Madhur Jaffrey from Householder now grown 20 years older), and then stop altogether. Like so many of the women in Jhabvala’s stories, Olivia is utterly alienated from all the women she meets, and some have good advice, try to support her. Anne is your liberated young woman, but supposed sensible, with her affair with her landlord (Inder Lal) emerging slowly. But unlike Olivia, she stops short of an abortion


Anne stops the woman in mid-performance

and is seen joyously retreating to a building now a hospice institution, hospital, where we last watched Olivia live her life playing the piano, until the very end when (it is hinted) Olivia ended in desperate poverty. It seems the Begum has won at long last


Jhabvala presents these Indian mothers-in-law as vengeful when given any power

We have the saturninely bitter-witty gay companion, kept and bullied the Raj — Harry (Nickolas Grace, young in the 1920s, and made up to be very ancient in the 1960s; Grace played this type too many times — Brideshead Revisited, Dance to Music of Time. He can convey no wisdom to Anne now grown old, back in England so safer and more comfortable, but storyless — we learn nothing of the inbetween time — it is story which thickens out characters in films.


The two take tea many years later, miraculously Anne has aged little

Maybe what was liked were the scenes of playful social activity, rituals done so quietly (not much gossip) and dinners at length, Anglophilic with the important qualification none of the white men or women show any understanding or sympathy for the people they are supposed to be governing, except maybe Douglas at his table in the heat trying to dispense justice.


Maybe it’s his stiff white shirt and tie that make Douglas (Christopher Casenove) so unappealing to Olivia (Gretta Scacchi)

But unlike the stories of her later career, Jhabvala is willing to grant her heroines a refuge with the implication they have accepted being women alone or subject to others.

I recognize the types and themes (people performing, a foolish American following gurus, who at the film’s end, somewhat unusually escapes relatively unscathed — like Lizzie, he is headed home to his aunt, in his case it seems almost a Kansas of Dorothy-like security and safety. This is the paradigm for Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love who gives the story post-colonial politics, with dollops of feminism, strong heroines in the past and present and the central heroine at book’s end her own person, bringing up a daughter, companion to her deceased husband’s elderly (kind and gentle) father in middle class Kensington.

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Early in the partnership

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s most central theme in her books (as also Jhumpa Lahiri) comes from her thoroughly post-colonial roots; born in Germany of a Polish father whose nuclear family were killed in German concentration camps (he later killed himself), brought up in England (she writes in English), studying literature, she married to an Indian Bengali man, spending 25 years in India (read “Myself in India”), and the last phase of her existence in New York City. She was a perfect fit for the Englishman James Ivory who had come to India, and Ismail Merchant A major theme of her fiction — searching for, building an identity, which even people who stay put at first sometimes must do as the one the nuclear family and community they live among seeks to impose one that violates their innermost nature which seeks actualization. This is the central theme of The Namesake (Lahiri also has a multiple identity now: Indian, English, US, and now Italian. It fits the Merchant-Ivory perspective as seen in the writing and interviews by and about them. She died in 2013.

Merchant appears to have personally been a secular man, but as an Indian born he grew up in a religiously-laden society, with opposing groups (Muslim, Hindi). In the online biography at wikipedia His father, a textile manufacturer, was the head of the Muslim League, and he refused to move to Pakistan at the time of independence and partition. “Family networks” enabled him at a young age to become friends with people influential and in the film industry. He studied at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and received BA degree of University of Bombay, moved to New York City where he worked as a messenger for the UN, and showed his talent for attracting funds from Indian delegates for film projects. He was the producer, the man who made the money come, and when he died, Ivory did not have the same talent. He and Ivory had met in 1961 when he was in the US on a scholarship in a New York coffee shop; at the time Ivory was an Ivy Leaguer with aims to work in artful cinema. He died in 2005.

Ivory’s biography in wikipedia tells us he came from middling people in Oregon, where he first went to University, he moved to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, where he directed the short film Four in the Morning (1953). He wrote, photographed, and produced Venice: Theme and Variations, a half-hour documentary submitted as his thesis film for his master’s degree in cinema. The film was named by The New York Times in 1957 as one of the ten best non-theatrical films of the year. He graduated from USC in 1957. Here we are told Ivory met producer Ismail Merchant at a screening of Ivory’s documentary The Sword and the Flute in New York City in 1959; but we meet up with the other biography for we learn they formed their company in 1961. He wrote and or collaborated with all four books on them as a team.

Neither man seems ever to have married or had a public partner.


The three continual creative spirits grown older …

In Robert Emmet Long’s wonderful (full of wonders) and useful book, The Films of Merchant-Ivory: there are good biographies, much better than the ones I’ve provided, insightfl details about stages in their careers, the gifts they showed, where learned their crafts, then descriptions and accounts of many of the films, many beautiful and thought-provoking photographs and stills. Long calls these three “unique uncommon individuals” who make “unique uncommon films.”

Ellen

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Friends,

I have written about Scott’s Staying On, the whole of the Raj Quartet, books and films, after reading through the books myself, teaching Staying On, listening to the texts from audiocassettes and watching the mini-series. So am skipping my usual telling of story, description of character or setting and incident.

I’m moved once more to write in a different briefer way about Paul Scott’s fiction, this time his Jewel in the Crown (the first novel of the Raj Quartet) because on TrollopeandHisContemporaries@groups.io, a group of about 8 of us read it over 10 weeks slowly, posting about its issues carefully and in detail. I felt I learned so much from the book and from the postings of the others — about India, its previous history before the 20th century, the Raj in the 1940s, what has happened since (the novel is presented from a retrospective standpoint of 1970s). People involved included Diane Reynolds, Tyler Tichelaar, Nancy Gluck, Andrea Schwedler, Rory O’Farrell, myself. As to the book itself, it’s in the political analysis of the deepest rooted nuances of psychologically rooted social identities that transcends particulars that the book stands out. In this Scott is a grandson of Anthony Trollope (whom Scott much admired).

It feels so important tonight to write that Scott successfully dramatizes and persuades this reader of the major crucial truth of his idea that the means to power that one person has over another through their race (in India from the time of the Raj on, the white race has over non-whites) is more important than any other. More important than being a member of an upper class or caste, than religious differences, than your gender, and certainly more important than money. Money comes you to because you are white (are employed in a good position); you go the finest school because of your race and after that caste. Gender limits how you can spend your life’s hours, but the women’s hierarchy replicates the general one and is more important than their subordinate gender when they deal with men.

Yes he shows us a complex nexus of circumstance, individual psychology, elements shaping the characters lives from where they live, what job and/or education they have, age, biological and marital relationships with specific individuals. But what emerges from this again and again is that “race power” explains why people and movements in the novel fail to make any lasting progress towards a better, happier life for all, prevents the mingling of people such that they (we) could experience one another, get to know one another and identify.

It seems so important tonight as the US president imposes an imprisoning of enfants and children of hispanic people in horrendous conditions, because their parents were attempting to emigrate to the United States; arrests and shackles the adults in farcical versions of trials and arrests them, putting them into prisons too regardless of whether legally they have a right to ask for asylum. No reporter or elected official or anyone outside the hired military force is allowed into these places to film or question to report on how these people are being treated. Only clips of films, bits and pieces moments and a few testimonies of people who quit working for these prison companies, or reporters, or of someone not jailed who fled back to a place where he is now in danger of being killed.


Daphne (Susan Woolridge) and Hari (Art Malik)

The book and its three sequels are known as the story of a gang-rape of an English girl (Daphne Manners) which, together with an assault on an English teacher (Edwina Crane), and murder of her Indian colleague (Mr Chadhuri), and the arrest, torture, and long imprisonment of the girl’s Indian lover (Hari Kumar) and five Indian young men, his friends scapegoated by a virulently hateful (because of low status) colonialist police officer, Merrick (a closet or repressed homosexual). (Some parts of this outline resemble Trollope’s first novel set in 19th Ireland, The Macdermots of Ballycloran). To be sure we chose the book partly to re-read this tale of the repercussions and history of all the individuals involved. I’ve loved the novel because it has most female narrators talking from a subjective intelligent stance. Like other quartets (e.g., Durrell’s Alexandrian), the structural idea is to go over the same set of events again and again from different points of view.

One of our members, Nancy Gluck, described the first half of the novel this way (it has 7 parts):

In Part 1 (Miss Crane, the missionary teacher), an unnamed narrator tells us of a landscape and a rape to come and the history of Miss Crane. We are given many of Miss Crane’s thoughts, but it is all indirect discourse. We know what she feels and thinks, but she does not address the reader directly. The narrator tells us all. We do know that he (presumably he) speaks to us from a later time because he refers obliquely to events which happened later.

Part 2 (The MacGregor House) is structured differently. We begin with the narrator, this time describing a house and a girl singing. Although we do not know it at first, he speaks to us from a later time. The girl we eventually learn is Daphne’s daughter, so she must be singing 15-20 years after the events described in Part 1. Only a few pages in, we are addressed directly by Lili Chatterjee (the upper class Indian aunt of Daphne, with whom Daphne has been living) reminiscing about the earlier events. The narration swings back and forth between the narrator’s descriptions and Lili’s words and then concludes with the text of two letters form Daphne to her Aunt Ethel in 1942. So, we hear three voices: the narrator, Lili, Daphne.


Lily Chatterjee (Zohra Sehgal)

It is only in Part 3 (Sister Ludmilla, the self-appointed woman of charity) that we have some hint of who this narrator may be Again we begin with the narrator’s description, but then Sister Ludmilla speaks to him/us directly to describe both the present time (circa 1962) and the events of 1942. “You understand…? Yes you understand.” And “Your voice is that of a man to whom the word Bibighar is not an end in itself or descriptive of a case that can be opened as at such and such an hour and closed on such and such a day.” I cannot find the passage now, but at some point Sister Ludmilla says that the you she addresses has returned to India after some years and is staying with Lili.

In Part 4 (An Evening at the Club), the presence of the narrator is clearer. His observations and reactions are at the center of the story and the time is the present. We also hear the voice of lawyer Srinivasan, speaking to the narrator and pointing out what is different from 20 years ago, as well as what is the same – old ideas is slightly new clothing. There may seems little point to this. After all, we want to hear the story of what happened to Daphne. Yet how can we understand that story unless we understand that it resulted from all that came before and that all that came before and after to led us to this evening at the club. As Sister Ludmilla observed, not a case that can be opened and closed neatly on such and such a day.

I think that the narrator is Scott himself. He spent the war years in India and then went back in 1964, seeking material for a novel set in that country. In the four related novels he draws on his memories of the war years, we well as the observations he made on his return trip. A novel can only select a segment of time but Scott is doing his best to show the continuity of events

Part 5 gives us the hero-victime’s story, Hari Kumar through the eyes of his father, and then the eyes of his Indian relatives, and then himself. Part 6 is the most impersonal: we see the events of the central week of the novel through the point of view of a dense deeply narrowly prejudiced English military man, Colonel Reed, and then a perceptive humane but still pro-English establishment English gov’t official, Mr White. Here is the trial and by indirection a depiction of the Merrick, in effect novel’s cruel villain, who himself plants the evidence against Hari, because he seethes with jealous rage over Daphne’s preference for Hari and Hari’s originally privileged upper class english and middle class Indian background. Part 8 is all revelation: Daphne’s journal-letter to her English aunt, Lady Ethel Manners.

We asked, Is this a novel about the rape of Daphne Manners? Though Scott introduces the book that way, it’s obviously about much more. Miss Crane we are told died by suttee – she was widowed by the man she wouldn’t listen to and honored him that way — crazed behavior. But how central is the rape itself? Not as central as Hari’s loss of status and the good existence he might have had had his father lived and carried on providing the wherewithal to live with whites as they live.


Hari

Probably we probed the book deepest when we got the 7th part written as Daphne Manners’ diary.

Here is Diane Reynolds’s posting:

I agree with Ellen’s reading of the situation in the final section. I did find myself both appreciating Daphne’s impulse to appreciate Hari for who he is, and her ability actually, to some extent, to see him. But I did find myself also irritated with what Ellen calls her childish characteristics. Yes on that. Daphne is finally, for all her good intentions, blind like Miss Crane. She can see Hari to some extent but she can’t get to the point of seeing such aspects of him—really—as his poverty or his Indianness, which is thrust upon him. She does and doesn’t know these elements are there. She is able to live in fantasyland.

Two aspects of this section bother me. First, the Hari Daphne loves is the cultured, educated, upper class Briton he is inside. She is able to see through his dark skin and Indian clothes. But what this says is not that she wants an Indian man, but that she wants a British man of her class. It’s as racist to not see the Indian in Hari as it is not to see the Brit. Second, I find it disturbing, not just in this section, but going back to the bookend parallel of Miss Crane, that women seem to be implicitly blamed for the suffering brought to Indian men who get involved with them: in Miss Crane’s case, the Indian man who is killed because he obeys her commands and Hari, who is tortured. If they do cause these problems because they are sheltered from the realities of Indian life is this their fault? Who built this system? Is it incumbent on every English woman in India to buck the system and educate herself in a way that is roundly discouraged and made difficult, if not almost impossible? Everyone is not going to be sister Ludmilla. I think this is a great novel in the way it exposes a granular reality, but I do sense an uncomfortable undercurrent that says that women cause trouble for men when they get out of their “place:” Scott seems to be asking, why are these women allowed so much power when they don’t know how to use it?

And place leads me to Ellen’s interesting comments that the lovers had no place to go and so were forced into a dangerous space, which led to Daphne’s rape. Usually it is males who are willing to enter these spaces—in this case its a women. I just read a book in which the man talks about how, in his college days, he would repeatedly take his sleeping bag and sleep under trees and the stars in just such a space—outside the boundaries where the campus police patrolled the campus. I immediately thought, no woman would do that. He thought of it as a charming story of his free spirited younger self escaping the stifling partying of his dorm room: he not for an instant saw the privilege in that he could he do it. So the point of how much women or in our society blacks or India Indians are controlled by space is pertinent and not one we have much discussed. It is all over Scott—he makes a point of it. It’s part of his journalistic endeavor of constantly repeating information about how spaces connect and showing how the Indians are constrained to live in certain spaces and denied access to British spaces. His point is that you can’t understand the Indian pov unless you understand how they exist in the space of Raj—most British are oblivious to it—they just don’t get it, so they can’t understand the Indians. Miss Crane’s mistake is being oblivious to space—she simply doesn’t understand the danger of entering the “wrong” space because as a British she innately assumes all spaces are her spaces—and they are—but not so with her Indian companions.

While I believe there is a subtle strain of misogyny threading through the novel—Scott can’t quite get himself to like a character like Daphne; he suspects female privilege—I appreciate his sensitivity to the danger of spaces and the constraints put on less powerful group through the dynamics of space—this probably does come out of his being gay. This, of course, connects back to the #MeToo movement and the way women continually have it impressed on their bodies when they have crossed into male spaces. The trauma of Daphne’s gang rape seems to me glossed over too.

This swings the discussion in a new direction: it’s not a novel where Daphne, the heroine or the other heroines are in the center but rather a system where the female is again marginalized and women are blamed when they have not built the system, the male capitalists and males in the marketplace have.

I couldn’t address the larger issue; that takes a book, but I picked up on this:

In the main story, Hari displaces Daphne. She dies but her death is also biological – the baby was breech birth, but her life need not have been ruined; she could have returned to England to bring her daughter by Hari up. It is his life which is ruined – and how and why are the riveting themes of the book (race): he is its true tragic figure because his is the noblest soul. Scott finally does not care as much about the rape or Daphne or Parvati (who is nicely provided for) as this young man. I was struck by how Hari’s white school friend Colin Lindsey’s letter (Colin turned from Hari) is one of the last things Daphne talks about — Hari saved her photo and that letter. I believe that Lindsey applied for a transfer because he saw Hari, and (like Daphne) separated himself from Hari.

This comes out so clearly in Daphne’s diary: this is mostly about the trial, the aftermath of the rape and how she fought and failed to protect Hari. That she betrayed him out of her own racism when she refused to stand with him and admit to all she had gone to the Bibighar to meet Hari, made love and while they were in this space outside society’s protection, they were attacked. She now claims still it would have made the results worse had she told the truth because no one would believe her story that she willingly made love with Hari; they would have seen this as a cover-up. But we see and she sees that the outcome would have been better for him: there would have been no opportunity for Merrick to torture Hari to admit he was at the Bibighar since this crucial admission would be made openly with Daphne by Hari’s side. She did not have the courage to face up to what she had chosen.

For Hari is the untouchable, belonging nowhere. Only his aunt, Shalini, who also belongs nowhere as an impoverished uneducated widow, makes a place for Hari to live and she doesn’t control that space as it is dependent on her brother-in-law giving her an allowance (tiny).

While Daphne doesn’t mean to portray a picture of Hari as a noble soul with deep understanding of what’s going on around him, she does. I am especially impressed by how he sees that Sister Ludmillla is not mad and it is only after following Hari’s point of view and getting to know her that Daphne begins to see Sister Ludmilla is a rare truly decent person. Others see this: Anna Klaus for example. In a sense Daphne’s diary shows us how she was not worthy of Hari — she is not as perceptive as he or a number of those around her.

In line with this I was surprised to realize _she liked Merrick_. She says so; she says she felt for him. She makes a triangle where she is in the middle with Merrick on one side and Hari on the other. That makes them equivalent. Merrick is the kind of person who is not rescuable: he is like some maddened dog — true the society made him this way, but it is unlikely you are going to break through his savagery. She is very like a child. Merrick did some very bad things to Hari. That does fit how an upper class sheltered girl might respond to the idea that Merrick hurt Hari. She has been so sheltered she cannot imagine it.

We see how the pair of lovers could find no place to be alone – how society did do that to them. Nowadays one might have a place of their own to live — but Hari is poor and so is Daphne personally and both need others to live. So they ended up in the Bibighar a place outside the network of safety. Alan Bennett has discussed the world that exists outside the network of safety. That’s the place where police don’t have to protect you and anyone can attack. Bennett says gay people know about this space. We in the US know black people are in it when they are in the streets and are not even safe from police murdering them in their homes or yards.

So another interpretation: is what happened, this gang-rape which ignited a riot was the result of two lovers of different race wanting to be together and being given no safe space to do this in. In the south when say such a thing might happen between a couple the upper class whites tried to punish them by lynching any available black person or the male if he was black. These Brits do this too in arresting Hari and torturing him. After all years later Mr Poulson never tells Hari that he and everyone knows Hari told the truth about how he was tortured and when Hari is freed, he is never told why in any specifics. (I get this from the serial drama but know it’s in the later books). We must remember it’s not just Merrick who tortured Hari; people obey him, others refuse to look, others protect Merrick sufficiently he stays employed.

And Hari’s mistake was not that he loved Daphne. She alone respected him from among the whites. He was English and she alone was a girl then he could have companionship with. It’s natural to want respect, companionship, love, so natural you risk your life. What he hadn’t realized was a ticking bomb is that she is such a child. The two weeks estrangement that Sister Ludmilla recognizes comes when Daphne discovers that Hari was arrested by Merrick and didn’t tell Daphne about it. Why is Daphne angry at Hari for this? because has Hari told her then she would have recognized what a shit Merrick is. This is deeply unfair. She is blaming him for her own stupidity in liking Merrick and thus endangering Hari by keeping Hari in Merrick’s eye.

Thus when the two weeks was gone both lovers were desperate for one another and met at the Bibighar. Then discovered she acted her usual child-like act of not wanting to face the truth of what had happened and with Hari and thus deserted him, and destroyed his life. She never had the strength of character to openly marry Hari. We see in her diary part of her impulse was simply to rebel to disrupt. She got a kick out of that. It’s a dangerous thing to get a kick out of especially for non-whites.

Her testimony is fascinating:

In the films you cannot see her thinking: this is largely made up of her trying to keep her lie straight and trying to make sure that anything she says in her lie will not show she is lying and cannot be used against Hari. This is the first time I’ve ever been let into someone’s thinking as they try to cope with a hostile lawyer that I can recall. I never thought about how women feel when they are on trial in front of a jury and the issue is rape.

It’s awful: she is frightened continually of what Poulson’s her interrogators response will be. I think for the first time she (and Scott) make a good case that had she told the truth, it would have been held against Hari and he would have been put in prison anyway. It may be this is all in her mind, but the man’s questions as she thinks about them are attempts to get her to admit she went to the Bibighar to meet someone, i.e., Hari. The thing is they as whites do not accept Hari’s right to have a relationship with Daphne, and they do not accept her right to agree to it.

Like in the US when it was against the law for white and black people to marry one another. In the film of the Love’s case, they are harangued and harassed and beaten up individually and as a couple when they try to be together and just go out together.

She still said no to him out of a deep racism, she still didn’t truly identify and pity him, but maybe she was correct to say that had they stood together, it would have gone just as badly. Her heart did not melt at his crying, had it she would have stayed with him. What would have been the case though is they would have been together, and having declared openly she made love with this man (in effect), she might have been able to keep in touch through friends and comforted him — and if she lived through the childbirth, they could have left India for the UK together.

She knows immediately that Merrick planted the bicycle – and Lily Chatterjee knows this is truth as she says it. There she is not in court so she can speak out. she cannot speak out in court. Another insight: courts are places where one cannot speak except according to a script which will be judged not according to humane principles or truth, but how it works in the adversarial system.

She finally admits she worked out of superiority.

But even if Daphne is less than admirable in all this, why should she be? why should we ask of her anything more than the others are. She was gang-raped and cruelly and that because of the whole race and power issue of the raj. The Raj raped her because she wouldn’t obey its restrictive bigoted norms. And it broke him because he was lured to it by his own isolation and desperation, which was caused by all the people who supported the Raj, which seems to be just about everyone the two young people have to depend upon — from Hari’s cruel uncle to Lily.

Scott’s thrust has a way of making us criticize both Miss Crane and Daphne. After all why should anyone want to live the life Sister Ludmilla does: she’s a saint out of desperation herself.

Scott himself was a closet homosexual – at the core of the book is also another much less developed (except by Hari i his section in Part 5) true friendship not permitted: Hari and Colin from their school days. First put an end to when Hari’s father kills himself. Colin’s father could have moved to help Hari stay in England. He decides not to, because he decides not to trust Hari — based on his reaction to Hari’s skin color (again Part 5). Skin color. True love not permitted: Hari and Daphne. Nor true friendship: Hari and Colin.

We end with women narrators, women mopping things up: Lady Ethel Manners and how Sister Ludmilla’s place is now a decent house for helping people. Also women coming to the truth: Connie White comes to Daphne to lay before her the truth — and so other white women know it, and other non-white. This dialogue is by the way included in the film.

The idea of women coming to the truth men’s methods don’t is in Trollope’s Phineas Finn. It is Madame Max’s examination of Emilius’ landlady with no police about that gets the truth about the coat, the key, the locked room (&C&c), which were the circumstantial evidence convicting Finn of a murder he didn’t do. Who would tell a policeman anything? — said one of the novelist, a black man, writing recently in the UK says Andrew Marr interviews in his BBC documents. Of course Agatha Christie and her group think all good people would tell police all they can – that’s naive even in 1930. Trollope and Scott know better. I certainly wouldn’t. Are courts places for telling the truth? They are spaces carved out by men.

It is finally a novel by a man and male literature and discourse is crucially different from female. Diane Reynolds:

Ellen, it is true that Hari also suffers. I would not say a hundredfold if we are talking about him being beaten: Daphne too suffers from pain and humiliation, which is where Scott is arguably graphic but not graphic enough in his depiction of the rape. Throughout this passage I feel torn: I agree you, Ellen, that it is good that Scott doesn’t cut away—but does he also nevertheless make it chaste? He both shows it and glosses over it. I feel torn—as I said, Hari is in greater danger than Daphne—but let’s not forget that she’s been brutally gang raped and she dies from child birth. Scott makes it clear that the child is Hari’s, but did the injuries she sustained from repeated rape impact her ability to deliver a child, leading to—wasn’t it a C section birth? And as I noted, in the moments following the gang rape (not later—let’s not jump over the rape itself in our sympathy for Hari), it seems to me the focus should be on Daphne. So I continue to have ambivalence about Scott’s attitudes to women. I love the novel—I think it is brilliant in its granularity—but I am uneasy about Scott’s feelings about women and his allegiance to women. Is Daphne a prop developed to shine a light on Hari’s fate? I don’t, for instance, have a sense of what Daphne looks like, other than she is somewhat large and not particularly attractive. Scott does say at the beginning that this is a story about rape—but fundamentally, it’s not—it’s a story about the effect of rape on an Englishman who has black skin …

[A little later in response to another]

I agree that we look away from the reality of rape/violence and turn into something chaste, which is Vitanza’s point in a new book about sexual violence called Chaste Rape (though Vitanza would reject the idea of making a “point” as a verbal assault)—and as Ellen says, here Scott doesn’t cut the text before the rape but shows Daphne’s vulnerability and helplessness as she is raped. Nevertheless, I did feel that Scott understated the rape: Daphne has just been gang raped, and yet she is worried about Hari first and foremost. But what about her? Why is it all about the man? Of course, it’s because Daphne realizes, if imperfectly, that Hari is much more vulnerable than she is, could be blamed for this and could suffer a terrible fate. I struggle with feeling appreciation for her putting him ahead of herself and a sense that this is unrealistic because she herself has just been gang raped. How far does the nurturing mother breast go? At this moment, her gang rape is more important than whether Hari feels shamed for not being able to protect her or even what might happen to him. Something terrible has happened to her.

The mistake is that she is making decisions to protect another person when she is not in a frame of mind to make good decisions at that moment. She has just been through a physically brutalizing and psychologically traumatic experience. The focus should be on her and caring for her. Hard is trying to do this, to his credit—but is Scott? Or is the gang rape, to Scott, really all about Hari?

Also, I sympathize and feel for Daphne’s awareness of the danger Hari is in and her desire to protect him, but wonder how much is this a desire to reassert her own sense of control in a universe gone mad or, genuine love for Hair, in another interpretation, how much it is Scott’s male fantasy? It is possible that she hasn’t really absorbed what has happened to it or, more likely, wants to deflect from her own pain and vulnerability by caring for someone else. When she can’t bear him crying is it that she can’t bear what has happened to herself and is projecting this onto him? I do give her behavior, whatever motivates it, leeway because of what she has just been through. Consistently, and perhaps this is a product of her trauma, she comes across as using rationality to shield herself from emotion.

[She quoted the long crucial section of the novel and then wrote]

Or, maybe it is completely realistic in patriarchy that a woman who has just been gang raped is comforting the man who is crying because he couldn’t protect her.

***************************


Sister Ludmilla (Matyelok Gibbs) and Mr. Souza (Om Puri)

I don’t want to go on for too long so will end on why for me Sister Ludmilla is still the character I love best in this first book. Hari is too (rightly) angry. Sister Ludmilla is more than a little insane. She has had the most unfortunate “destabilized” (I put this in quotes because it’s such a fashionable word) background of all the characters: her mother whom it seems was something a courtesan or someone’s mistress and prostitute and descended to abysmal street level impoverishment. (In archetype she is Esmeralda from Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame whose mad mother lives in a street hovel and begs.) Safety was modesty, so to avoid men, Ludmilla dons frightening sister’s garb. She ran a free hospital where she took in dying and mortally sick people she found on the streets. She has a small allowance sent her one a month (probably the mother’s lover). She speaks from a retrospective of years after (1970s) the incidents of the novel took place (1940s). She is now blind, her sanctuary had been “normalized” into an orphanage and other charitable institution by the state — with a fourth building. Her bed in the room that was Mr de Souza’s.

Her discourse is expressive with remarkable nuance, knitting private life to public, sexual impulse (gay as well as hetero), class, status intimate moments of our lives to how the whites (Merrick, and before him the Scotsman MacGregor and his son) perceive and act out their power. She allegorizes the novel’s space by places (as does Trollope): the two places, the MacGregor House, where Indian and British have come together and everyone acts according to a veneer of social code, and the Bibighar Gardens, outside of the safety net, the only place Daphne and Kumar can meet to be together truly. As she talked on (presumably to Scott himself) I kept seeing analogies in my experience for each of the characters she mentions, and social, sexual and powerful relationships that emerge.

Several elements here draw me irresistibly: one, this is pure l’ecriture femme in its movements, how Sister Ludmilla perceives reality as nuances (it could be Virginia Woolf). A second: her insanity makes her see the meaningless of the world so well, its cold indifference as a stance, and the deeply emotional needs of the people she encounters, their considered persona as a result of their lives. I suspect when I read it in the 1980s to me it was a profound relief to find another presence which saw the world the way I was seeing it and even through I recognize all the structures today, to me they are veneer however seeming sturdy and keeping us from one another’s throats. I love how she sees the strength and defiance of Mr de Souza. Now today, three she finds meaning in life by doing for free what a small group of people value and want as long as it’s for free, and will even allow her space to do it. That’s me at these OLLIs.


Barbie gone mad (Peggy Ashcroft) at the end — as has Miss Crane

I could go on and on about these different characters: I loved Miss Crane too. In The Day of the Scorpion, Barbie Bachelor, the impoverished companion of another upper class wealthy powerful man’s wife: she is the central presence and narrator of the third volume of the Raj, The Towers of Silence.

Two strongly recommended books: for the history of the era, Nancy Gluck urged Alex von Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of Empire. One of our members taught a course on India, and I’m about half-way through this vivid brilliant expose. tyler said that he felt an analogous volume and one he thought much better artistically is Tayeb Saleh’s Season of Migration to the North. The author was from Sudan and it’s an Arabic novel – it was named the best Arab novel of the 20th century and published in 1969. A companion piece to Jewel in the Crown.

Ellen

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